The modern ideal would be wonderful if true, and world-wide utopia would result. Religion still exists, despite the rabid attempts by the modern to disprove them. Poverty, war, greed, and psychosis still exist, despite the best minds of two-hundred years trying to solve these problems. These realities have ushered in a new era, the postmodern era (or the "third millenium"). Radical individual freedom, rather than dissolve greed, has heightened it. Science, rather than eradicate war, has made it more efficient (i.e., the atom bomb). Thus, the search for a new worldview.
After decades of scientific and artistic backing, post- modernism is beginning to develop into philosophy. Embryonic, exciting, revolutionary. Postmodernism is a change of Kuhnian proportions. Let us explore the possibilities of the new world.
Modernism is surprisingly easy to recognize and define. Philosophically it has three main goals/assumptions. The first is epistemology, which the modern wanted to substitute in place of cosmology and metaphysics. This "epistemological foundationalism" is a key to understanding modernism. It is "the view that knowledge can be justified only by finding indubitable 'foundational' beliefs upon which it is constructed" (Murphy, p. 192). Rather than allow our knowledge to be dictated by philosophers and theologians, scientists should be the ones to give us knowledge. Only the knowledge we can derive from our senses is true knowledge (empiricism)--all other knowledge is metaphysical gibberish, actually not "knowledge" at all. There is no source of knowledge except the "real world," the one we all agree on, the one we see, feel, hear, taste and smell.
The second assumption is "the view that language must gain its primary meaning by representing the object or facts to which it refers; otherwise it merely expresses the attitudes of the speaker" (Ibid.). The modernist uses this to destroy all religious and ethical talk. There is no "God" anyone can point to and say "See, the ultimate reality said 'Do not kill.'" There is no noumena Kant can pick up and show me and say "This is what a table truly is." Though Kant tried valiantly to mediate between metaphysics and true modernity, failure was inevitable. The modern definitions are too rigid and intolerant.
The third assumption, which becomes a technique of modernism, is "atomism or reductionism--an attempt to understand reality by reducing it to its smallest parts." This allows for a primitive form of ethics and philosophy that "sees the individual as prior to the community, and the community as merely a collection of like individuals, a mass" (Ibid.). This is the origin of the radical individualism we see in today's culture. The belief in the autonomy and primacy of the individual, together with the lack of universal ethics leads (in one of its many possible forms) to the "If it feels good do it" campaigns, as well the "It's my body, I can do with it what I like" we hear from the pro-choice side of the abortion argument. The murder legally committed within the woman's womb is merely the consistent application of modernist views. The common law of no stealing, no murdering, etc., is the inconsistent application of modern (a)ethics, due to the system of law having been previously founded on Christian principles.
This gives us three categories by which to examine modern philosophy over against post-, pre-, or anti-modernism. The three categories are epistemological foundations, representational-expressivist theory of language, and individualistic, reductionist view of community (Murphy, 1989).
The pre-modern worldview is characterized by
a vertical metaphysical dualism, separating the celestial from the terrestrial spheres; a language of purpose (primarily organic metaphors) to describe the things in, and the order of, the cosmos; a reliance upon tradition as a source of authoritative knowledge; a view of humanity as standing at the center of the cosmos.(Burnham, p. 2)The pre-modern is the classical skepticism of science, and all things not God/Bible-centered. The pre-modern will not accept any talk of higher-criticism, or any questions of the why or how of "the Bible" (as opposed to text receptus). Many questions of the physical world and the inner (psychological) world are off-limits to the pre-modern. Those questions appear "blasphemous, as we question the wisdom, authority and even the very existence of Yahweh.
Fundamentalists would appear to be pre-modern in some respects, but they are not, as can clearly be seen when put up to our three criterion. They are in fact moderns attempting to "pull a Kant." They are usually very individualistic. "I have faith in God, because the Bible says so!" Firstly, "I" have faith in "God," as if God himself came down and handed his "faith" to him. My salvation rests on my relationship with God alone, no more is needed. Secondly, my relationship is based on the representative object of "the Bible." "No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible" is a common fundamentalist belief (though usually voiced only by Campbellites). There is no room for metaphysical or theoretical constructs of absoluteness. Only what the Bible "says" is what is to be believed and practiced. Ethics are derived from literal reading and application to contemporary life (except where direly un-contemporary, such as "women should keep silent in the church," etc.). Thirdly, epistemology is based on the "reality" of God in the universe. We can debate with evolutionists because "the rocks cry out" God made them, and because we can "prove" the various events of creation. Yes, the epistemology is based on an invisible God, but our faith is based on the various "proofs" of God's existence and nature--we are not leaping blindly into faith.
There is currently a group of moderns trying to pass themselves off as postmoderns. Many people agree with the label of postmodern for this group, but the characteristics of this group show them to actually be arch-modern according to our criterion. Mark C. Taylor is one representative of this group. His methods and beliefs are shaped, for one, by Jacques Derrida, the deconstructionist. Ultramodernism is a Biblical/theological deconstructionism. Taylor's modernism is shown when put up to our criterion. On the surface he rejects modern individualism. In postmodern thought, individualism is rejected in order to restore a holistic community view. But Taylor does not affirm community. Taylor claims the individual is "nothing other than the generative interplay of properties" (Taylor, p. ). This, though, is only an extended form of atomism. It is a further reduction of the person, rather than a holistic view of the person in relation to the community (Murphy, p. 211).
As far as language and reference, Taylor claims there is no object for the words on the page. With other deconstructionists, he says words merely refer to other words, not to noumenal objects. He agrees with the modern that "without reference there is no fixed meaning" (p. 211). His logic is to admit inherently admit the fallacies of empiricism and claim the true reference is "word." The logos is the reality on which all observed reality is based. The written word we can see, is true reality. The objects we see and name are able to be named because we have "word." In admitting the empiricist fallacy, he says "we have no access to hard, immediate, irrefutable facts, historical or otherwise" (Taylor, p. 67). History is something we cannot touch, therefore it is inadmittable to true knowledge. His reference for truth is named when he says "the fact can exist only linguistically, as a term in a discourse" (p. 68). His rejection of the meaning as deriving from the author is another attempt to do away with metaphyscal concepts, thus exposing him fully as modern.
This is modernism. Now that we see some of the alternate expressions of modernism, and understand its foundations, we can see if the modern roots are strong enough to explain phenomenon. One complaint against modernism is that in positivism it claimed to be able to supersede religion and metaphysics. In fact, what we have seen in the world is not a dissolution of religion, but an increase of quantity and fervency! Mexico City, since the writing of its Constitution in 1861, has had laws against religious practice of any kind. With over a century of positive science to back up its anti-religious system, the entire city rallied around the pope when he visited in 1979 (Cox, p.15-17).
The United States, the bulkhead of revived modernism (in pragmatism), is being swept away by emotionally charged charismatics, by Satanists, and with New Age. Metaphysical and religious beliefs are far from eroded in any part of the country. In the Soviet Union, the ex-living idol of naturalism (in dialectic materialism) and anti-religious fanatics (in Stalinism) there is a flood of requests for any kind of religious works, including the Bible, after seventy years of harsh (often cruel), dictatorial control of education and social life.
Another problem with modernism is its lack of practical and meaningful ethics. Social government must have laws, or the society would be in chaos. Chaos is not allowable within the positivistic system, therefore there is contradiction. If we, for the moment, assume the citizens might not act chaotically, then modernism might work. But what allows us to assume this about our citizens. This assumption is based on the idea that all people are rational, and will act according to that rationality. If this were the case, society should function appropriately. But, reality shows us people are not rational. Reality shows us even when we have rational answers, we may not behave according to that rationality. Reality forces us to be cautious when examining a system claiming the possibility of lawlessness without chaos. One cannot go from is to ought. We can look at what is (phenomenon) and describe it, but we cannot claim how things ought to be based on the observable is. This system of ought is what laws and ethics are based upon.
A third problem with modernism is the result of modern physics. Quantum physics has shown us the universe is not predictable on a sub-atomic level. This predictability is the foundation of modernism, as modernism is built upon Newtonian physics. Unpredictability on the sub-atomic level logically implicates macroscopic reality as unpredictable. Based on probability, due to the "usual" behavior of particles on a sub-atomic level, the sheer number of the "usual" behaviors allows us to be (for all practical purposes) 100% certain of particle behavior on a macroscopic level. But, based on the probabilities of infinitude, sometimes there will be macroscopic behavior inconsistent with Newtonian physics, due to the unpredictability of sub-atomic particles. This inability to have absolute certain knowledge erodes modern ideals. Further discoveries in quantum physics supports postmodernism, but these supports will be discussed in the postmodern section.
The person is a "node" in the web. In a wave, when two waves cancel each other out, there is a "node." This is the postmodern view of the person. The person is not so much cancelled out, but is an intersection of numerous waves of the web. This picturesquely shows the place of the person in the universe--he is not an isolated being as the moderns thought, but an intricate part of an eternal network. In fact, "an isolated self is an impossibility (Varieties, p. 65). The self is the "focus of exchanges" in the "relational network" (p. 68). This gives us a picture of a universe that is not moving "toward a single center, but is multicentered" (p. 69).
There is also no predetermined goal. The web is being constantly created by the nodes interacting. The nodes exchange, creating changes in the web itself, thereby influencing other nodes. But the goal of the exchanges is not controlled by any being (God). There is no God at the end of the universe waiting with a finished heaven. The heaven may or may not be there, and God may or may not be waiting for us, but it is totally dependent on what we choose to do with what comes our way. If we act towards the goal we envision, that eventual goal is more likely to occur. But our vision is also not in its final form. It too changes as the web changes, and as the exchanges that pass our node changes us.
The discussion so far has all been highly abstract. More concrete forms will be discussed later. The epistemology, however, is based on this concept of web. The postmodern epistemology attempts to answer the question "Why this network (or rearrangement) rather than another?" (Murphy, p. 200). For example, Kuhn and Popper try to discover the current epistemologies in their respective works. Kuhn ties epistemologies to the contemporary paradigm. In our discussion, Kuhn's revolutions were like "large swatches of fabric torn out at once and replaced with new [ones]" (p. 201). Popper's view supports the idea of an interacting network when he talks about the scientific community (the web) defining what is to be accepted as scientific, or rejected as mistake--the web creates the exchanges, the exchanges create the web.
Before turning to the second two criterion, let us further examine the activity of the web. God is creating the web. God did not create the web at point A, and stop there. God has no point B at which time will time will stop and the web will resemble diagram B.1. "God has been creating the world as far back as we can know and is creating the world yet today" (Burnham, p. 14). Yet God is not the only creator.
Every element of the world participates not only in its own creation but in the creation of the universe as a whole . . . To adopt a theological language in which God is the only authentic creator requires both a cosmological dualism and an historical determinism. (p. 15)Again, "there are many orderers, but one Supreme Orderer" (Birch, p. 92). The goal of the exchanges is not chaotic though. They are led by "the Spirit." Sounding like Hegel to an extent, the universe is not the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the universe. The Spirit can be said to be the creativity that leads the nodes to change the network. It is "leading us toward a more human, less dominative, more liberated life" (Varieties, p. 71-2). There is a goal God wants us to reach, but even God's vision of the goal is being continually changed as the network changes. "It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God" (Birch, p. 105). By way of the Spirit, God nudges us to where he wants us to be. But "God is never coercive, ever persuasive" (p. 94). This is one thing Jesus saw, is God's ever persuasiveness, and never coerciveness. Jesus blatantly showed this with his life, in everything he did.
precede individual speech and determine what can and cannot be said by the individuals in that community. In short, language and the search for knowledge are practices, dependent upon tradition--they are communal achievements. (p. 205)For example, primitive tribes explain their world based on the myths of the community. The religious, social, and practical life of the tribe are centered around the stories of its past. The tribe's history defines how the tribe lives today. However, creativity today will change tomorrow's web, and the language that is carried to the descendants will define how they are to live. The language of myths are not merely stories of behavior which is passed on. The myths themselves are comprised of the words, phrases, and logic structures of the people who tell them, and of the people who hear them. The children who grow up on these myths will grow up with these words, phrases, and logic structures engraved on their minds, and driving their hearts. The language defines them. Any significant behavioral alteration of these language games rips them from their tribe. Their story then changes the form of the web, adds new language to the tribe, and therefore alters each person's life.
Altizer extends this discussion, applying it to Christianity.
Nothing comparable to Dante, Milton, or Blake may be found in non-Western literary traditions, for nowhere else is God, the sacred, or the ultimate fully spoken, nowhere else is it truly realized or actualized in language itself. God is not simply the object of speech, but the subject of speech as well, as subject which the Christian identifies as the Word of revelation. Ultimate or final Word speaks in the Bible, and this is a unique historical phenomenon, with the exception of the Koran. . . . Christianity and Christianity alone knows a Word or speech which is the absolute antithesis of silence. Here, Word speaks finally or eschatologically, and Word speaks finally because Word irreversibly becomes "flesh." Nowhere in the New Testament is the finality of speech more evident than in the language of Jesus as recorded in the synoptic Gospels. (Total Presence, p. 2)
This is not a pantheism--the web is not God. Though the web creates God, it is not a literal sense of "creating" God as we understand God creating in Genesis 1. This view is, however, very close to panentheism--God is not the web, but he is intricately involved in every aspect of the web. "God is both within the system, and independent of it" (Birch, p. 90). It is panentheism as opposed to theism because God is influenced and changed by the web, as much as the web influences and changes itself. The web is dependent on God, not vice-versa, but without the web, God would not be the same God.
The postmodern view of society and ethics is "not new; perhaps it has been the most common account over the course of history" (Murphy, p. 204). Each individual participates in his community in order to build it up. If all participants had the same function, the community would fail. "One's participation in society is by means of complementary roles and skills." This is a very common sense view of community.
This view of community is extended by Panikkar, and other postmodern pluralists, into the realm of inter-religious dialogue. No religion has a monopoly on truth. If it did, all people of the world would flock to it, and one religion would result. The problem of current inter-religious dialogue, in Panikkar's view, is not that the various religions are too hostile to each other. The problem is they are all too friendly and ready to assimilate. The World Council of Churches stands on the premise that all religions share a common core, and if we can break through to this core the inter-religious tensions would disappear. According to Panikkar, this core exists, but rather than seek the core, we should accept it is there and enjoy individual differences. Granted, the core of all major religions is God, so what do we do now. Rather than pander to each other and try to change what they have into what I have, let me be me, and you be you. When I try to take your expression of God and believe it myself, I wrench it out of your language games and cultural background, showing hostility to you, to me, and to God. At the base of this is the idea that of understanding. I do not truly understand someone else's beliefs the same way the holder of the beliefs understands them, otherwise I would also hold to those beliefs. To say, as a Christian and a rejector of Islam, that I understand Islam, is pretentious and annoying. Picture a Muslim claiming to understand Christianity and reject it. A Christian would vehemently doubt and oppose the Muslim's claim as really true. What we can say is we understand each other, not the other's faith. Dialogue, therefore, can help us understand another person's faith claims, though not the faith itself.
The multireligious experience comes when one attempts not to understand another's religion, but to experience it. When I decide to experiment with the Muslim faith, I do not read a book on Islam and claim to have experienced Islam. I engage in Muslim practices. I worship in their manner, I pray in their manner, I exist in their manner. I am not trying to do away with my own faith, only to experience another's faith. "This risk of faith must be understood as emerging from one's own faith itself; not from doubting what one believes, but deepening and enriching it" (Intrareligious Dialogue, p. 13). Further,
my faith must be naked enough to be clothed in all those [other religious] forms with no misgivings about slipping into heresy. (Anyone who thinks he will be betraying his faith should not and cannot embark on this venture.) (p. 14)Ethics, then, is based on community. Inter-ethical dialogue, as inter-religious dialogue, is not something to sit at a table and discuss. Just as religion is not an academic exercise, but a way of life, ethics too, is no less than a way of life. Communities with conflicting ethics are all part of the same web--we all participate in the same reality, while our the expressions are different. Not to say there is no one truth. This is not solipsism, relativism, or "create truth as you go." God still exists. In the more conservative forms of post-modernism he is real, and is independent of the web (therefore in certain ways unchangeable). There is, therefore, a truth to attain, and an ethic to arrive at. In a semi-Hegelian sense, this truth is arrived at in a struggle process, bringing us sometimes closer, sometimes farther from the truth. The creativity of the web brings us closer (when we follow the Spirit--see above discussion), and evil (breaking away from the relationships of the web, and the relationship with God) drags us away from the truth.
The first theory is a Christ very similar to the Chalcedonian Christ. The twist is in metaphysical explanations. Allen pictures the incarnation as the line from the intersection of two planes--the God plane and the human plane.
The incarnation, which removes the contradiction that exists in the notion of union between beings which are on completely different levels--an infinite and holy being, and finite and sinful beings--does not enable us to understand how God became human. The picture of intersecting planes is only an analogy, not an explanation. (Allen, p. 198)It is God's intersection with our plane in Jesus that allows us to be righteous. Man is not righteous, but God is. There is nothing within human character that is just or righteous, therefore there is not a quantity within humankind we can add up and become righteous. The difference between God and man is not quantitative but qualitative. Therefore a mediator is necessary. Jesus, being the intersection between God and man, is the bridge that allows us to be "assimilated" into God. We become like God upon "assimilation" (p. 199). Our goal is to be in union with God, but God is just. How do we come to be in union with God? To love justice. How do we show we love justice? By asking God to let the full consequence of evil fall solely on ourselves. This would, in fact, be justice, so also being proof we love justice. When we face the decision to truly ask for the full consequence of sin to fall on us, we are fearful, for the consequence of evil is a terrible thing. In this suffering we are able to meet God. God became flesh and suffered an unjust execution in order to spare us the full consequence of our evil. "To love justice itself, so that we ask that the consequences of our evil fall solely and directly on ourselves, and yet to shrink in horror from it, is the way we are assimilated to God" (p. 200).
The second Christology seems more clear, yet is more abstract. This is the Jesus of Altizer, Lyotard, and Cobb. The simplest and most general statement to be made about this Jesus is that "the essence of Christianity is the appeal to the life of Jesus as a revelation of the nature of God's activity in the world" (Birch, p. 95). This, however, is a practical tautomerism, since most Christologies believe this. This particular statement is in specific reference to God's non-coercive nature. Jesus exemplified not coercion, but consistent and powerful yet gentle persuasion. Another more concrete aspect of this Jesus is he allows God to become self-aware. "Only as human is God self-aware; only as human is God fully God, the active and transfiguring archetype of the human itself" (p. 92).
The more abstract vision of the incarnation of God sees Christ as more than the human/God in Jesus. The Christ of Cobb is as follows:
God speaks the divine word, the logos, the divine intention for a particular moment of human history; the logos is fully actualized, fully enfleshed in the acts forming the particular human life of Jesus of Nazareth; since Jesus is affirmed paradigmatically as the one in whom the word is made flesh, he is affirmed as the Christ; yet to the extent that any person makes concrete (actualizes) the intention of God for that life, then to that extent Christ is manifest in that life (or as Paul put it, "It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me"). (Burnham, p. 18)This Christ is not a once and for all event. Indeed, Christ is every time a person "actualizes the intention of God." This Christ can be seen in Lyotard's vision of the Spirit working on the web. Jesus' historicity is not in question, nor is his Christ nature. But Christ is a "cluster of images" that should compel us to higher virtues. Those "cluster of images" (Varieties, p. 76) can only be found "in the context of the particular historical community, the Church, that lives out of that heritage." The image of Christ is a "vital symbolic focus for the activity of the Spirit" (p. 75) which allows us to deal with the evil world around us.
The living out of Christ does not necessarily mean to become a preacher. If the fundamental commitment is to Christ, the expression is irrelevant, as long as they are meaningful. The expressions are in service to the community, of course, because fervent, devoted service to community is the visible image of the Spirit, working in Christ. Some goals of the Christian community living out the Spirit is to
resist the technological cybernetization of life, encourage cooperative ventures and smaller networks within the overall society, and help to reconstitute the story of our common life in such a way that it gives up its imperialistic claims and opens the way to seek common values or at least coordinated values within the human community. (p. 77)The crucifixion of Jesus shows us something that transforms people and communities without removing pain and difficulty. The resurrection shows us the infinite value of "the other."
The Jesus of Altizer is one who poured himself out into his parables. This sense is very similar to narrative theology in that the story is the message. Christ and Christianity is not a body of doctrine to be memorized and obeyed. It is a lifestyle of joy, commitment, hope, and love. The "Parabolic Jesus" of Altizer is one whose stories embodied Christ and the Kingdom. Altizer's Christ is one who "kenoted" himself into Hegel's "Spirit" (The Gospel of Christian Atheism, p. 62-69). Though theologians have struggled for centuries to encapsulate the Word of God, only the Church in action had demonstrated God's/Christ's love. The concept of agape can be found briefly in incarnational theology, but besides that, no other "doctrine of love" can be found. It is the living of the story that expresses Christ, not the explaining of Jesus or theology.
Some difficulties to exist however. Some postmoderns make it unclear if one is saved by faith in Jesus alone or not. Though this author interprets Panikkar to believe a faith in Jesus is essential, other interpreters disagree. Though most postmoderns accept a God involved in history toward some undetermined goal, postmodernism certainly does not innately cry out "Jesus is the only answer!" Yahweh God is not the only choice as far as many postmoderns are concerned. Another concern is the goal of history. Conservative postmoderns would say there is a heaven waiting those who are in union with God, others would say heaven is not a necessary goal of history. Neither is our current concept of ethics the proper behavior that will "get us to heaven." Because of the ever-changing nature of the web and of God, some postmoderns can say God is not "the same yesterday, today, and forever" in any sense of the phrase, whereas conservative postmoderns would say there are core traits of God that are eternal, whereas general characteristics, and attitudes change with the web (exemplified in passages where God "changes his mind").
Postmodernism is an exciting future for the world. New inroads to religious experience and depth are certainly in store, and definitely new vitality to community values and involvement. With the advent of the third millennium, let us all pray for God's firm yet gentle hand, the Spirit's wisdom, and Christ's vivid image and power to enable us to preach his name appropriately and effectively to our rapidly changing environment.
Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Open your eyes. Don't let your mind tell the story here." Tonic, 1996